United we stand, divided we fall

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Several months ago I came across an interesting news item in one of the leading newspapers that the Philippines is strongly pushing for a single-visa scheme for the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A lot like the Schengen Visa for the participating countries in Europe. I think a single visa scheme for ASEAN could do wonders for our tourism. With the very unfortunate events happening in Thailand, a major tourist destination, many foreigners are starting to look elsewhere when it comes to places to visit in Asia.

I believe that the Philippines could be that place. As I mentioned in an earlier article we are definitely a prime tourist spot for foreigners and have a distinct advantage over our neighboring Asian countries. Alongside our amazing beaches, diverse culture, and beautiful sites, we have a highly educated workforce, we are an English-speaking nation, and we already have so many reputable business firms from abroad stationed here with offices worldwide. Quite frankly, the Philippines has so much going for it, if we could only lower our energy costs, curb government corruption, and deal with traffic better I believe we could easily attract a larger number of tourists and even investors.

Although that is still a pipe dream, a single entry visa for ASEAN is definitely something I could get behind. Again, much like in Europe, I think multiple countries could benefit from this as far as tourism goes. After all, if you are visiting a country with a visa and you know your visa is valid for 9 other places, you automatically think you may as well visit them too like several tourists do while in Europe. In the end, everyone could benefit from this shared tourism, which could also strengthen ASEAN country relationships.

However, while I know a single-visa scheme would be a major attraction, I also understand that it would take a very long time in order to get this system into place. More than several years that is for sure. After all, there are big sovereignty and security issues that I am sure every country would need to face. Accepting a single visa for all of these countries indicates that we approve of and are confident in the visa and tourism processes in each country. That is something that is definitely going to take a long time. However, if done properly, the rewards could far outweigh the hurdles.

Security, however, doesn’t end there. In order for something like this to work, ASEAN overall would have to be more unified. This is the more challenging area as we are all involved in our little disputes with one another, and more commonly with China as we battle for land and territory. There is also a new proposal to make ASEAN member countries stand united in the face of China claiming more and more land as their own and the growing number of territorial disputes.

As we all know, China has emerged as the second most powerful military and economically progressive nation in the world, and their strength has given them the confidence to push their might and try to scare smaller nations (like us) into agreeing with their, oftentimes ludicrous, territory claims.

Personally, I also agree with the idea that the ASEAN nations all stand together against China when it comes to these territory problems. After all, we are all facing the same problem, with China claiming territory in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan in its bid to control mineral rich resources in this part of the world. I believe we should stand united against China in this aspect because alone we are definitely no match for them.

After all, in unity there is strength and there is hope. China has already admitted it does not want to deal with the ten member countries as a group but rather with each country individually. They also understand that dealing with us one on one makes it easier for them to force us into submission. Let’s not fall into that trap. Let us all stand together to protect what is rightfully ours. I think this would send a powerful message to China — and to the rest of the world — that we are collectively strong and will not hesitate to protect one another, even from each other. I sincerely hope that the new Chinese leadership will be more cautious and honest when it comes to their territorial dealings and resort to diplomatic channels rather than armed conflict.

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In other news, I am glad to read that Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson has publicly stated that the DPWH will try to be cognizant of saving as many trees as possible when it comes to their many road widening programs. Up to this point, the DPWH has been heavily criticized by environmentalists for cutting down so many trees — many of which are centuries old — in their road widening and infrastructure development in the country. And while infrastructure development is definitely something that the country needs, it should also be exercised with caution and with care for the environment.

After all, trees serve more purposes than just looking beautiful. They clean our air, which is already heavily polluted with so much smog and smoke, and they drink the water from the land — something that is incredibly important during rainy season. Not to mention, trees are part of a vast ecosystem that we have already pushed incredibly out of balance. We can see the disasters that climate change has only begun to cause and if we are not more careful this will only get worse. Super typhoons, earthquakes, landslides and more could intensify if we are not more aware of what we are doing to our environment. And while these may not seem to be a direct result of chopping down another 100 year old tree — they are much more connected than we like to think.

I truly believe that when it comes to the environment we have to be more deliberate with our actions. Warnings are not empty and preemptive like they were before; they are coming true every day and we are seeing the results of years of environmental abuse happening before our very eyes. While I think committing to save trees is a good first step, it is just that — a first step. After all, if you think about it — why is road widening so desperately needed? To make room for more gas-guzzling cars? Perhaps instead of investing in roads, we would be better served in investing in improving our public transportation systems? Then we could encourage our citizens to travel by car less and cut down on our emissions.

At the end of the day, it is how we look at out actions that will help us preserve the world. We should strive to leave something behind for our children and future generations.


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